American stage and screen actress Anne Bancroft, wife of The Producers’ creator Mel Brooks (pictured with her), has passed away. She died at Mt Sinai Medical Centre in New York on Monday (6 June 2005) after a battle with uterine cancer.

Although she became internationally famous for her screen work, it was the theatre that kickstarted Bancroft’s acting career. After early years appearing in low-budget Hollywood films, she returned to her native New York and starred in two William Gibson plays - Two for the Seesaw in 1958 and The Miracle Worker in 1959 – which garnered her two Tony Awards in successive years (for Best Supporting Actress in the first and Best Actress in the second).

In 1962, Bancroft and her co-star Patty Duke reprised their performances as teacher Annie Sullivan and her blind-deaf-mute charge Helen Keller in the screen version of The Miracle Worker, winning both of them Oscars.

Bancroft’s many subsequent films included The Pumpkin Eater, The Slender Thread, 7 Women, The Hindenburg, Lipstick, The Turning Point, The Elephant Man, Garbo Talks, Agnes of God, ‘Night Mother, 84 Charing Cross Road, Torch Song Trilogy, Honeymoon in Vegas, Malice, Keeping the Faith and Heartbreakers.

But she will no doubt be best remembered for her performance in the 1967 film of The Graduate, in which her bored but sultry housewife Mrs Robinson seduced Dustin Hoffman’s young Benjamin Braddock.

Over the years, Bancroft returned intermittently to the American stage in the likes of Little Foxes, A Cry for Players, Duet for One and Golda, for which she was Tony nominated in 1977. After a nearly 20 year absence, she was due to make a theatrical comeback Off-Broadway in 2002 with Edward Albee’s Occupant, but the run was cancelled when the actress contracted pneumonia during previews.

Though Bancroft never acted in a London stage production, her presence was keenly felt in the West End last autumn. At the star-studded opening night for The Producers at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, comedian and show creator Mel Brooks, Bancroft’s husband since 1964, credited the actress (See The Goss, 10 Nov 2004). After introducing the musical’s book writer Thomas Meehan as “his partner”, Brooks quickly clarified that “we’re straight” - should anyone question his sexuality, Brooks assured, “Anne Bancroft will tell you I’m straight”. He later returned to the theme, saying “This is one of the best nights of my life. Of course, my first night with Anne was very good, too.”

Bancroft was born in the Bronx, New York City, on 17 September 1931. She is survived by Brooks and their son.

- by Terri Paddock